Student recruitment strategies must get the best-fit students admitted to your institution.

As technology has changed, so has recruitment. A digital-first approach makes reaching applicants a lot easier.

With Gen Z making up around one in five Americans, they are extremely online and spend six or more hours daily on their phones. Therefore, recruitment strategies must evolve with time.

While this pressures institutions to rise to the challenge, it also opens opportunities to attract local and international prospects.

With declining enrollment rates, rising tuition costs, shifting attitudes, and increased competition, institutions must speed along with a personalized and engaging experience to drive prospects to the top of the funnel.

If your recruitment strategy isn’t rooted in this reality, you can lose more than half of your prospective students.

In this blog, we will explore 8 student recruitment strategies for capturing the attention of prospective students and driving enrollment using the funnel technique.

The Next Big Digital Shift in Recruitment

Traditionally, institutions filled their recruitment funnels with tactics such as college fairs, high school visits, print advertising, and direct mail campaigns.

However, with advancements in technology and changes in student behavior, those tactics aren’t effective.

Prospects are more likely to engage with communication personalized to their needs, with an agile approach to generate the best results.

A study revealed that prospective students researching universities and colleges contacted over 3,000 of them in six weeks before filling out a request for information (RFI) form.

They use search engines, look through schools’ websites, and read their social media posts.

Therefore, the institutions must set up digital touchpoints as part of their recruitment strategy to win them over.

With a proactive digital strategy of high-quality multichannel content that delivers a consistent, engaging message and offers repeated chances to request information or assistance, institutions can gently funnel potential students further.

However, this doesn’t mean institutions should abandon their outbound recruitment strategies entirely; instead, they should work together as a larger whole.

What is the Meaning of Student Recruitment?

Student recruitment is the process of carefully finding and recruiting the most ideal students for an educational institution in a cost-effective and timely manner.

8 Student Recruitment Strategies to Increase Enrollments

A recruitment funnel is a tool that maps points of contact with prospective students and improves attraction efforts.

It works differently for each level of instruction:

  • Top of the funnel (TOFU): Strategies likely spark interest since prospective students gather information from various sources.
  • Middle of the funnel (MOFU): Strategies that nurture prospective students who haven’t necessarily enrolled but have applied to several institutions and are still comparing options.
  • Bottom of the funnel (BOFU): Strategies that focus on minimizing melt, increasing follow-ups, addressing concerns, and ensuring a smooth transition from decision to enrollment.

Different strategies need to be deployed based on where the prospective students are in the funnel. The end goal is to turn the right potential students into enrolled ones.

Top of the Funnel (TOFU)

1. Build a Campus Story to Capture Student Interest

Storytelling is essential for humans because our brains are hardwired for narrative. A clear and persuasive story in place showcases why your university or college shines above the rest.

Capturing the attention of the generation shaped by content that values storytelling to connect with the institution socially.

Your institution must have a compelling storyline that serves as the hook for capturing student interest and advertising student life.

For example, Imperial College’s website uses visually pleasing graphics to tell its story. The site comes alive as the reader scrolls and offers interactive charts that drive engagement.

The story is based on the instruments built by college researchers and used by the Solar Orbiter satellite. It reflects the success, showcasing what an institution offers and how students can grow and thrive there.

Source: ICL

Gen Z Prefer Content Personalization

Make prospective students feel valued and recognized, not just another name on the list.

With a targeted recruitment strategy, we can help you reach the right students at the right time in their journey.

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2. Enhance User Engagement on Your University Website with Interactive Features

When it comes to recruitment, first impressions are everything.

According to a study published by ICEF Monitor, almost three-quarters (72%) of students said that checking out a college’s website was the first step in their research about where to study.

Keep your website simple and make it easy for prospective students to navigate and find the information they want.

The University of Washington offers a well-designed website with information about its core mission, profound optimism, and a hunger to pursue progress.

From academics and research to admissions and campus life, this university website includes all the information prospective students need to get started.

Even with the extensive details, each icon directs users to important parts of the website.

Source: UoW

3. Posting Testimonials & Student Projects Can Do Wonders For Your Higher Ed Business

When developing your student recruitment strategy, it’s essential to consider how you can build trust with your audience.

Prospective students are often put off by anything that feels unrelatable or too try-hard.

Engaging current students in creating content for prospective students is always better, as it makes the content relatable and leads to authenticity, which is one of the best ways to boost enrollment efforts.

Here are a few popular content tactics and formats you can use:

  • Video testimonials from alums, faculty, or current students
  • Student-created projects or presentations
  • Online forums and discussion boards
  • Interactive simulations or virtual labs
  • Photos celebrating your students and their achievements
  • Documentary-style videos highlighting research or campus events

Here’s an excellent example of how Clemson University uses Instagram to create realistic and meaningful impressions of the place.

Authentic (user-generated) content is a marketing tool to help prospective students imagine themselves in the University, classrooms, and dorms, making friends, attending events, and being successful.

Source: Clemson University

Middle of the Funnel (MOFU)

4. Instagram Works Out the Best to Meet Prospects on Social Media

More than half of US adults, 84%, aged 18 to 29, are active social media users, and the average daily time spent on social media is nearly 2.5 hours.

Your social recruiting efforts begin with finding the platforms on which your target audience is most active. It means evaluating and crafting your brand consistently across various media channels.

So, when prospective students look up your institution’s social media channels, they should be able to learn more meaningfully and substantially about your university or college.

According to a research study, Gen Z, particularly those in the United States, spend considerable time on platforms such as Snapchat, Instagram, and TikTok.

Arizona State University has a creative and interesting Instagram account that showcases content to raise brand awareness, increase engagement, connect with prospective students, and generate impressions. Their adept social media marketing strategies amplify their presence and outreach efforts.

Source: ASU

Meet Gen Z Where They Are

92% of Gen Z preferred watching content on their smartphones

85% of U.S. Gen Z users use Instagram daily

88% of Gen Z engaged with ad-supported video streaming services

Think Orion specializes in guiding universities through the transition between the traditional higher education model and emerging digital learning opportunities.

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5. Measure Your Engagement Rate to Drive Your Marketing Strategy

Data is just so important—your institution already has a lot of prospective student data in its tech stack.

That’s why you must use the information to create the personalized recruitment experience that has become so important to prospective students.

For example, Indiana University (IU) has integrated an enterprise-wide constituent relationship management (CRM) system to help recruit, engage, and retain prospective students, current students, and staff.

The University streamlined communication, interactions, and events into a single database for a holistic view of the recruitment process.

This also enabled personal engagement based on each user’s information, tracking data at various funnel stages and implementing effective campaigns for prospective students, resulting in a higher conversion ratio of admission applications at IU.

Source: Indiana University

6. Mobile-First Recruitment Strategy is a Promising Way to Reach Prospective Students

Mobile devices have become the primary means of communication and access to information. According to Statista, Google accounted for 94.92% of the mobile search market in the United States in 2023.

Therefore, a mobile-first recruitment strategy is a promising way to reach prospective students.

Optimize your website for mobile responsiveness, providing a seamless user experience and ensuring all pages, forms, emails, and ads load quickly to mobile devices.

It will enable prospective students to gain information, research, and fill out their applications via mobile devices.

Moreover, the integration of chatbots helps speed up the recruitment process by answering questions and keeping students moving through the funnel.

For example, the University of Michigan website is fully optimized for mobile, with font sizes comfortable to read, clear navigation, easy access to other pages, and omitting non-essential photos.

Source: UMICH

Bottom of the Funnel (BOFU)

7. Add Visibility to Financial Aid Offers & Drive More Enrollments

Financial assistance offered by the university or college plays a crucial role in admission consideration.

According to Insider Higher Ed, students who believe they can’t afford higher education are about 20% less likely to attend college within the first three years after high school than peers who don’t think affordability is a barrier.

Provide clear and easily accessible information about financial aid options, eligibility criteria, and application deadlines.

Highlight various financial aid options, including scholarships, grants, and student need-based assistance.

For example, Cornell College publicly announces the Freeway Scholarship via social media.

This scholarship offers $30,000 annually to applicants from neighboring states, enabling the college to remain competitive without compromising tuition fees and communicating upfront costs.

Source: Facebook

8. Turn Prospects into Enrollments Through Webinars

You can answer some of the most important questions of your prospective students using a webinar to help them make the final decision.

They likely want to enroll (or they wouldn’t have gone through your first two stages of the funnel), but something is holding them back.

These recruitment webinars help connect with prospective students on topics such as accommodation, fees and finance, student life, and course subjects.

With live webinars, you can present content in real time and interact directly with the audience.

Meanwhile, you can also turn these webinars into on-demand videos to generate leads, especially when you cannot host a live webinar.

Here’s an example of Stockholm University webinars and other digital marketing strategies for prospective and newly admitted students to help them prepare for the upcoming studies and activities at the University.

Source: Stockholm University

For each student enrolled, colleges and universities spend between $429 and $623 on marketing each year

Are you looking for an experienced, creative, and innovative digital marketing team to help promote your higher education program?

Think Orion specializes in helping universities, colleges, and educational institutions bridge the gap between the traditional higher education model and new digital learning opportunities.

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Factors Shaping Student Recruitment in Higher Education

Student recruitment is an essential task but also challenging in the digital age. Understanding the factors influencing the strategy is more important than ever.

Academic Reputation & Story

Higher education is a big step, and prospective students are still determining what to expect.

Academic reputation and story influence recruitment by shaping prestige, quality, and fit perceptions.

By telling your college story, you can reach prospective students. Stories don’t just grab people’s attention—they resonate.

When it comes to figuring out what aspects of your college to focus your story on, here are a few areas to consider:

  • Programs
  • Culture
  • Campus Life
  • Student Activities
  • Success Stories
  • Career Development

For example, the University of North Dakota taps into the emotions of inspiration, sharing the stories of students who’ve become leaders while inspiring students with the promise of becoming one themselves.

Trends of a Newer Generation

Recruiting the tech-savvy and socially conscious Gen-Z requires a modern approach that resonates with their unique values and preferences.

According to McKinsey, Gen-Zers are generally more pragmatic, with complicated idealism and worries about the future. Gen Zers dream of personal career fulfillment but expect economic struggles.

They are more interested in belonging to an inclusive, supportive community. They are also more individualistic, with a stronger sense of personal expression.

A Focus on Future and Affordability

The rising costs of higher education leave students struggling for affordability and livelihoods for generations to come.

Gen Z values higher education prospects, but their spending patterns differ from those of the generations before them.

They’re not simply spending on whatever they want. Instead, they are extremely deliberate about their finances and ROI.

To attract prospective students, showcase any available scholarships, grants, and need-based financial aid options.

Shift Towards Personalization

When institutions target content relevant to the stage of a prospective student’s journey, it will accelerate the progress toward recruitment.

For example, Boston University has connected CMS directly with CRM to offer custom content based on the information gained from inquiry forms.

This example of a follow-up email from BU includes a personalized email by name, an invitation to explore the admission process, and a link to a personalized webpage based on the recipient’s stage in the enrollment marketing funnel.

Source: Boston University

Frequently Asked Questions:

How To Recruit Students To Your School?

Recruiting students to your school involves several key steps:

  1. Identify Unique Selling Points: Highlight what sets your school apart.
  2. Develop a Marketing Strategy: Use social media, website, brochures, and ads.
  3. Host Open Houses and Info Sessions: Invite prospects to meet faculty and explore campus.
  4. Establish Partnerships: Collaborate with local organizations and feeder schools.
  5. Offer Scholarships and Financial Aid: Make your school accessible.
  6. Engage with Parents and Students: Address concerns promptly and provide personalized attention.
  7. Leverage Alumni Networks: Engage alumni as advocates.
  8. Highlight Success Stories: Showcase achievements of current students and alumni.
  9. Utilize Online Platforms: Employ SEO, PPC, and content marketing.
  10. Monitor and Adapt: Evaluate effectiveness and adjust strategies accordingly.

Conclusion

Recruitment strategy for higher Ed must be nurtured, evaluated, and assessed regularly. With the right strategy in place, your institution will be better positioned to attract and connect prospective students.

The constantly changing trends and demands of the newer generation require you to keep your recruitment strategies on-trend and relevant to them.

Optimize your website design and responsiveness with the help of higher education marketing experts to deliver an exceptional user experience and make all the relevant information accessible to the students. Attract right-fit students by showing up where they are—on social media.

Boost your recruitment strategy with a connected CRM for a more personalized experience. When prospective students’ expectations match their experiences, they will likely enroll in your college or university.